If you’re into soaking up the sun with a cocktail, wandering through prehistoric rainforest, discovering the world’s deadliest bird, seeing crocodiles in the wild, sailing the islands, diving the Great Barrier Reef or meeting the locals over a beer or five, tropical North Queensland is the place to go.
Start at Cairns for your rainforest, reef and local North Queensland experience. Stay at the Northern Greenhouse (Grafton Street, Cairns) for a great hostel experience, where you’ll enjoy free breakfast, free internet, licensed bar with cheap drinks, swimming pool and an industrial-sized communal deck with free activities, including swimming at Crystal Cascades Waterfall, just out of town; free barbeques and more.
Go to the reef and islands. From Cairns you can head straight out to several islands; Green and Fitzroy Islands being the most accessible. The cost is around $80.00 for a day trip. You can also get out to the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven wonders of the world. Whether you want to get up close to the many creatures and coral which inhabit the world of the reef and do a dive, or go snorkelling, or just relax on board a glass bottom boat and see them from a distance, there’s something for everyone. Watch out for box jellyfish – the world’s deadliest marine stinger, can kill you in three minutes, easily avoided by wearing a stinger suit.
Wander through prehistoric rainforest, see crocodiles (crocs) in the wild and meet the world’s deadliest bird. Take a trip from Cairns to Cape Tribulation, around two hours north of Cairns. Billy Tea Tours offers a great deal where you watch crocs in their environment on your Daintree River Croc Cruise, taste some Aussie culture with real billy tea and damper (as well as an industrial size steak on the barbie, meal fit for a king – or a starving backpacker), and hand-feed orphaned kangaroos. You tour stunning Daintree Rainforest, one of the world’s oldest rainforests never touched by the ice age. If you’re lucky, you may get to meet a cassowary, the world’s deadliest bird which can grow up to two metres tall and has a lethal claw that slices like a razor. Best viewed from a distance, but a real privilege as they are an endangered species with under 100 left in the Daintree Rainforest.
Chill out in the mountains and get your hit of alternative culture. Take a bus or train from Cairns half an hour out into the mountains to the village of Kuranda. You’ll find everything alternative, from locally brewed tea and coffee to second hand new-age books and home made clothes – as well as the not-so-alternative and often found Surfer’s Paradise; stuffed cane toads holding beer cans. Kuranda is right in the rainforest, so take a rainforest walk, or just browse the markets and enjoy a wonderfully authentic and surprisingly cheap (under $10.00) Vietnamese feed.
Go jump. Head two hours south to Mission Beach and skydive. Go on the weekend; you can also buy fabulous tropical fruit and fresh prawns dirt cheap at the local markets. Mission Beach is huge which means you can walk along the beach for hours; also ideal for all kinds of extreme sports that involve landing on sand, even scooting across the sand on wheels powered by the wind on a "Blo-Cart".
Girls, head for a night out while you’re in Cairns, drink free champagne served by topless male waiters at the Troppo’s Nightclub. Be warned: best consumed in moderation or accidents can happen with pebblecrete, swimming pools and the pavement.
Feed the animals – not the cassowaries. The friendly marsupials that inhabit Magnetic Island; a half-hour ferry ride from Townsville, four hours south of Cairns. Every day at 5:00 pm, at the jetty off Geoffrey’s Bay, the rock wallabies come for a feed. You can use the food provided. Stay at Picnic Bay Hostel for cheap, cheerful and friendly service (twin rooms under $50.00), and feed the possums who hang around outside all night.
Sail the Whitsundays – more accessible than you think! Head to Airlie Beach, around eight hours south of Cairns – the gateway to the 74 Whitsunday Islands. You can take a three-day boat trip to the Great Barrier Reef to snorkel and dive, stopping off at the islands and beautiful Whitehaven Beach (as seen in all posters advertising tropical North QLD!), where you’ll find white talcum-powder sand and idyllic crystal-clear water.
Have fun and do nothing. Airlie Beach, the mainland of the Whitsunday Islands, is the perfect place to relax and do nothing. Watch the world from one of the many cafés or pubs that line the one main street in town, relax by the tropical lagoon on the beachfront or party till the sun comes up. Stay at Magnums for the ultimate local experience – toad races, pub games and live bands from 5:00 pm.